Integrating Research-Led Teaching into Law: From Visit Days to Finals – Dr Beatrice Krebs and Dr Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne, School of Law

The benefits of research-led teaching for both staff and students are well known. From the perspective of students, it encourages and facilitates deeper learning and engagement with complex intellectual issues in the course materials. In so doing, it gives the students the opportunity to develop critical and creative thinking. For staff, it offers the opportunity to use the classroom as a laboratory for testing out ideas in their research area, and discussing them with a student audience often helps to clarify our own thinking.

In Law, we have successfully integrated research-led teaching not only throughout the undergraduate degree but also from the outset when students visit the University on open and visit days. In this blog post, we want to share some of our practices with integrating research into teaching through the undergraduate degree course.

Open and visit days

Part of research-led teaching requires making students aware from the outset of their degree of the research we do. Open and visit days offers a perfect opportunity for this and indeed allows us to advertise our expertise in cutting-edge research. To this end, we have made showcasing our research expertise and research-led teaching a key part of our open and visit day experience. Thus, we begin with a talk by the admissions tutor (one of the present authors) that, in part, offers an overview of the different research strengths of the Law School and emphasises the value in being taught by leading researchers in the field. As part of this, he also presents examples of staff that not only teach and research in their specialist fields but are involved in the practice of law (for example, many of our staff act as academic advisors to counsel in court cases and participants in key policy initiatives around the world – see our research impact pages). We then move on to a taster lecture from a member of staff on a topical subject that is accessible and interesting to school pupils and is representative of what they will study during their degree. Crucially, this lecture is given by a member of staff on their specialist research area and incorporates aspects of their research. For example, one of the present authors gave a taster lecture at the most recent visit days in February 2017 on the Jogee case of the UK Supreme Court that changed the law on accessorial liability in criminal law, drawing on her research in this area and first-hand knowledge of the case.

Overall, this approach to open and visit days has been very successful. Feedback has consistently been very good, with notable mention of the interesting and engaging topics of the taster lectures. We have noticed especially in the taster lectures that visiting students are generally keen to get involved by asking questions, offering answers and debating topics. For this reason, we have made the taster lectures more interactive, for example, by asking visitors to give their views on a particular issue by a show of hands and then asking one or two people to explain the reasons for their views.

First year

Throughout the degree, students are taught by members of staff in their specialist research areas, which exposes students to the latest scholarship and key debates in the field that they are studying. However, research-led teaching in Law is not limited to substantive research topics but also underlying research methodologies. For example, in tutorials in Criminal Law, when explaining how the law works in particular areas, comparisons are often drawn to other jurisdictions so as both to highlight the particularities of the English and Welsh approach and to expose students to alternative ways of addressing the same social problems. This direct comparison pushes students to think critically about the legal rules that they learn and to ask themselves what are the advantages and disadvantages of how our jurisdiction deals with certain issues in the Law. Exposing students in their first year to this also prepares them well for the various research-based modules (e.g. Research Placement Project and Dissertation) in their second and third years.

Second Year

In the second year, we have a bespoke research-informed module, Research Placement Project (RPP). RPP offers students the opportunity to work directly with a member of staff on a particular research project. The student develops their own research question with the guidance and supervision of one of the academics that has signed up to the module. The students are given lectures on the nature of scholarly research and research skills, as well as seminars that function as workshops with students discussing the progress they have made on their research. This module offers students an early opportunity at developing their own, discrete research project with guidance from the academic and to engage in a deeper form of learning and critical analysis. Moreover, as the topics of the research projects are not restricted to what they have studied thus far, they are able to extend their existing knowledge into topical and exciting cutting-edge areas of research.

Final Year

The final year offers a range of opportunities to further students’ engagement with research. One example is the Dissertation module, for which students develop independently a research question and then find a supervisor that works in that field to support them as they write a 12,500 word dissertation. In addition, in specific taught modules, we also integrate research into seminars and tutorials. For example, in International Law tutorials, two students are sent a scholarly article in advance to read and to summarise to the other students in the tutorial. The articles tend to be of a general nature, exploring different understandings and ways of thinking about international law. Other students then have an opportunity to ask questions about the article and engage with it themselves. This has generally been very successful and has made students engage with very complex intellectual controversies that they otherwise would not have encountered.

Concluding remarks

In this blog post we have sought to outline a few ways in which we incorporate our research interests as academics into the teaching of Law throughout the undergraduate degree. Feedback from students has been positive about these different approaches. Importantly, research-led teaching not only benefits students, by encouraging deeper and more critical approaches to reading and writing, but also benefits academics, as we are able to discuss our research interests with students who may be able to offer a fresh perspective.

As noted, we have sought to incorporate research engagement at the earliest stage, making it a crucial part of the open and visit days to give potential students a clearer idea of academia and university life. As the degree progresses, we can often see a clear improvement in how students express themselves and handle different ideas and arguments with nuance and maturity. Research-led teaching thus benefits the quality of their written work and is key to establishing students as independent thinkers both within and outside the classroom.

The evolution of bioscience horizons, an international student journal by Professor Julian Park

Given the focus on the research-teaching nexus within the University at present I thought it would be useful to post a short video on the University’s involvement in an international journal that only publishes student research. Bioscience Horizons was established about 8 years ago, with Reading as one of the consortium members. The link below is to an MP4 that briefly describes the evolution of that journal.

Showcasing Excellence in Students’ Research at Reading By Dr Anne Crook and Professor Julian Park

The T&L away day in September 2011 focused on the theme ‘Building an Undergraduate Research Community’. Arising from these discussions a group of staff met to investigate ways in which undergraduate research at Reading might be more effectively showcased across the institution (and beyond). The group has expanded since its conception in 2011 and now meets once a term, consisting variously of staff from across the Faculties, support services and RUSU and is co-chaired by Dr Anne Crook (CDoTL) and Professor Julian Park (Associate Dean T&L, Life Sciences). The remit of the group has also expanded to encompass both undergraduate and postgraduate research activities and aligns with one of the key strategic priorities in the new Learning and Teaching Strategy (2013-18), namely ‘to engage students in research and enquiry in the curriculum’.

The aim of this blog post is to update colleagues on the activities of the group and to seek your feedback on other ways in which we may showcase excellence in students’ research at Reading.

Members of the group are currently engaged in the following activities:

1.  Developing a framework for disseminating students’ research news, e.g. on a webpage of the University’s website

The outputs of student research (undergraduate and postgraduate) are sometimes published in academic journals and other publications. However at present there is no central ‘forum’ for communicating the high quality contribution that is made by some students through their research activities (within and extra curricula). The group felt that a more effective forum of communicating these contributions, and the experiences which the students gain by being involved in research, is required. The group are therefore currently working with the Communications Office to investigate ways in which high quality students’ research may be showcased, both internally and externally, taking into account the different audience that such a website may cater for (current/prospective students/alumni/research community etc.)

2.  Further investigation of the possibilities of publishing high quality Master Theses on CentAUR

The issue of Masters theses remaining largely ‘on the shelves’ after submission was considered and it was agreed that the highest quality dissertations could be an excellent research resource for other students (and staff). The possibility of theses being accessible once relevant permissions/copyright had been sought, e.g., in PDF format via CentAUR, is being pursued. It is worth noting that it is already possible to search for papers with an UG or PGT  author and this currently returns 40 papers.

3.  Support for and dissemination of students’ attendance at the 2013 British Conference on Undergraduate Research

The conference will take place in April at Plymouth University and a number of Reading students will be attending and presenting (at least 5), some of whom have been funded by members of the group. The group will be working with the Communications Office to ensure these students are showcased on the University website following their attendance at the conference.

4.  Financing a UROP in 2013 to focus on the impacts to students’ confidence in undertaking research placements.

This is being funded by the Science Faculties and is currently being advertised. The project will be supervised by Dr Gillian Rose in Agriculture.

5.  Liaising with the University Committee on Museums, Archives and Collections (CMAC) to establish the ways in which University resources held within its museums and collections are currently being used to support T&L.

6.  The Associate Deans for T&L within the group, Julian Park and Orla Kennedy, are taking forward discussions to establish the nature and extent to which students at Part 1 and Part 2 are undertaking research activities. 

7.  Liaising with RUSU regarding the possible involvement of the Students’ Union in supporting a University-level student-led conference to showcase excellence in student research activities, which could build on the existing annual UROP showcase event in the Autumn Term.

8.  Exploring opportunities with the Communications Office whereby the annual UROP showcase event could ‘dovetail’ with other events taking place on campus at that time to maximise the potential impact of the UROP event.

9.  Drafting an article for the Engage in T&L blog to solicit staff ideas for other ways in which we may showcase students’ research.

The group would welcome your feedback and suggestions on its work, in particular, additional ideas for ways in which we could be showcasing the excellent research activities that many of our UG and PG students undertake at Reading. Please send your suggestions to Anne Crook ( and Julian Park ( Thank you!